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We Christians have a freedom that no government could ever grant us. We who belong to Christ have a freedom far deeper than the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights could ever give us.
If anything has become clear lately, it’s that American freedom can only get you so far. American freedom is the freedom to live however you want to live. As the Declaration of Independence puts it, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” American freedom is the freedom to live your own life without anyone telling you what you should do or how you should live. It is the freedom to do what you want to do.
And American freedom isn’t bad. The freedom we have as Americans is a good gift from God. We’re free to live wherever we want to live. We’re free to choose the career and job that we want. We’re free to travel wherever we want. We’re free to marry the person we want to marry. We’re free to choose how we want to educate our children. We’re free to go to the church that we want to go to. The freedoms we have as Americans are good gifts from God. But these freedoms only get you so far.
I mean, what good is it if you’re free to live however you want, but you always manage to screw it up and do what’s wrong?
What good is it if you’re free to choose the career and job that you want, but are driven by greed? The work will always be about you and what you can get out of it, and the people in your job will either be steppingstones or obstacles to your happiness. Or what good is it if you’re free to marry the person you want but are driven by lust? You’ll never be satisfied with the person you’ve married, and in fact, marriage will seem like a burden keeping you from satisfying your deepest desires. Or what good is it if you’re free to get the education you want to get but are driven by pride? You’ll see your education as a way to serve yourself, showing everyone how smart and accomplished you are, rather than as a tool to better equip you to serve others. Or what good is it if you’re free to live wherever you want, but are driven by covetousness and jealousy? You’ll never be able to be satisfied with what you have and will always want more. The whole world will be too small for you.
What good is it if you’re free to live however you want without anyone telling you what you should or shouldn’t do, but you always do what’s wrong? It’s worthless! No matter how free we are to determine our lives, we’re bound to mess it all up. And no matter how free we are to live the way we want without anyone else telling us what to do, our lives are determined by sin. The flesh is in control, not us.
Now I’m not saying that American freedom is bad. It’s not bad. We’re the problem. We are, as we say every week, by nature sinful and unclean. We are born into sin and cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. And having the freedom to live however you want just isn’t up to the task of setting us free from our real bondage—that is, our bondage to sin and death.
But what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights can’t do, God has done in Jesus Christ.
Paul says something radical in our epistle reading. “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” You are not a debtor to the flesh. You don’t owe the flesh anything. Or more to the point: You are free from the flesh. While everyone else is sold into sin and a slave of sin, you are not. You don’t have to sin but are actually free to do good.
Yes, we are by nature sinful and unclean. We’ve sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we’ve done and by what we’ve left undone. We cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. But what we can’t do, God has done through Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Yes we are by nature sinful and unclean. We’ve sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we’ve done and by what we’ve left undone. We are born into the footsteps of our father Adam, and we have followed his lead. We’re all born into sin and the wages of sin is death. But God has sent his Son in the likeness of our sinful flesh to free us from sin and death. Jesus took the path we were bound and determined to walk as his own, and marched it to the very end. He who knew no sin became sin. And he died the death of a sinner, suffering the curse of our sin as his own, crying out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” But God raised Jesus from the dead. God redeemed Jesus from the curse of sin and death and made him a new creation. And raised from the dead, Jesus has sin and death behind him once and for all.
And in baptism, you’ve been joined to Jesus. Your fate and our destiny are no longer sin and death, but resurrection from the dead and righteousness. You are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. As Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we were untied with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
And with that, the Spirit breathes new life into us, gives us a new hope and a new heart: that despite our sin, God is our Father who will give us what’s good. I mean, look: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us! And if this is the way God dealt with us while we were his enemies, how much more can we trust that God is our Father in every walk of life! If this is the way God dealt with us while we were his enemies, how much more can we take God’s fatherly love and put it to work in every walk of life.
Take the government and other authorities. Naturally, our pride bristles at people in authority. How dare they tell us what to do! Who do they think they are! And every restriction seems like a personal attack that squeezes the life out of us. But when we know that God is our Father, we don’t have to worry about our life. We can trust that, as the Scriptures say, God has established governing authorities for our good. And even if we disagree with them, we can trust that God who gave them to us is bound and determined to give us what is good.
Or take our possessions. Naturally we are never satisfied with what we have. And when we see what someone else has or what we could have, all we can think about is what we lack. And no matter what we have, nothing ever seems to be enough. But when we know that God is our Father, we don’t have to worry about our lives. We can trust that no matter what we have or don’t have, God will be sure to give us what is good. And we can be content, or more, we can actually see our possessions as a gift that we can give to people in need.
Or take suffering. Naturally we despair at suffering. When our bodies break down or we lose someone we love, or when a pandemic turns our normal routines upside down, it seems like life is being stolen away and we have nothing left to hope in. But when we know that God is our Father, we can be confident, as Paul says, that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
We are free to do good, no matter what the circumstances around us might be, because the Spirit has breathed into us sure and certain hope that God is our Father in Jesus Christ.
Yes, we Christians have a freedom that no government could ever grant us. We who belong to Christ have a freedom far deeper than the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights could ever give us. We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. So grab hold of that freedom and use it for all it’s worth. “For,” Paul says, “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.